Smoking, says state Health Director Kenneth W. Kizer, costs the citizens of California more than $7.1 billion a year in health care and lost productivity. The state's anti-smoking advertising and education campaign, financed by the 25-cent-a-pack cigarette tax approved by voters in 1988, costs only a fraction of that amount. There are impressive signs that the campaign is working. Kizer thinks that in the past 18 months Californians have quit smoking at about twice the previous rate. His guess is that there are about 750,000 fewer smokers in California than there were before the anti-smoking blitz began.
Economics has no doubt played a part in cutting into the ranks of smokers. The rising cost of cigarettes has dissuaded a lot of would-be smokers from ever starting and persuaded a lot of smokers that their habit had become unaffordable. Kizer also credits the effectiveness of the anti-smoking ad campaign. A poll indicates that 75% of those who have seen the hard-hitting ads remember them, a very high rate of recall.
Health officials estimate that 21% of Californians still smoke, down from 25% in 1988. The national average is 30%. There is an abundance of evidence linking smoking to a variety of chronic and fatal diseases. The fall-off in smoking means that hundreds of thousands of Californians can expect to lead healthier and more productive lives in the years and decades to come. Voter approval of Proposition 99 two years ago could turn out to be one of the more significant contributions to public health in recent years.